The Sword Guy Podcast, episode 54
Bestselling author, speaker, and a leader in the Movement movement, biomechanist Katy Bowman has been changing the way we move and think about our need for movement. Her eight books, including the groundbreaking “Move Your DNA” and “Movement Matters” have been translated into more than a dozen languages worldwide. Bowman teaches movement globally and speaks about sedentarism and movement ecology to academic and scientific audiences. Her work has been featured in diverse media such as the Today Show, CBC Radio One, the Seattle Times, and Good Housekeeping. One of Maria Shriver’s “Architects of Change” and an America Walks “Woman of the Walking Movement”, Katy has worked with companies like Patagonia, Nike and Google as well as a wide range of non-profits and other communities, sharing her “move more, move more body parts, move more for what you need” message. Her movement education company, Nutritious Movement, is based in Washington State, where she lives with her family.
In our conversation we talk about form, feet, injuries, and Jess Finley’s ‘hooky’ acromion process (it’s part of your shoulder). When you use swords, or do any other sport, the movements – or lack of – that you do all of the rest of the time when you are not doing swords create your ability to move freely and effectively with a sword in your hand. What is your body doing when it is not doing swords?
We mention Ruth Goodman’s book, How to be a Tudor. You can find out more here: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/287/287072/how-to-be-a-tudor/9780241973714.html and listen to our podcast episode here: https://guywindsor.net/2021/04/fire-and-cauldrons-episode44/
If the section on barefoot shoes inspires you, check out Freet shoes https://freetbarefoot.com Use this code at checkout: THESWORDGUY10 to get 10% off- and if you do, I’ll also get a small commission. Yay!
The author mentioned when we are talking about Finland is Robert Holdstock, the Mythago Wood series.
We also discuss sedentary culture, what it’s doing to us and our kids, and how we might improve our environment to make movement more likely. Human movement is at an all-time low and our children are currently facing both a movement and nature deficiency, with physical, mental and environmental consequences. The good news is, while the problem feels massive, the solution is quite simple…and fun! Katy’s forthcoming book, “Grow Wild: The Whole-Child, Whole-Family, Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More” is out in the UK on 24th June, SRP £24.99, published by Propriometrics Press; distributed by Chelsea Green Publishing.
On amazon UK.: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grow-Wild-Whole-Child-Whole-Family-Nature-Rich/dp/1943370168/ref=sr_1_1?crid=29X0ZIYTB1DAG&dchild=1&keywords=grow+wild+book+katy+bowman&qid=1615844073&sprefix=grow+wild%2Caps%2C225&sr=8-1
Katy’s web/social media links:
You can also support the show at Patreon.com/TheSwordGuy Patrons get access to the episode transcriptions as they are produced, the opportunity to suggest questions for upcoming guests, and even some outtakes from the interviews. Join us!
GW: Hello, sword people, this is Guy Windsor, also known as The Sword Guy, I'm here today with biomechanist Katie Bowman, author of Move Your DNA and the forthcoming Grow Wild. You can find her online at www.nutritiousmovement.com. And without further ado, Katy, welcome to the show.
KB: Thank you for having me.
GW: So whereabouts in the world are you?
KB: I am in the United States, on the West Coast, in a state called Washington, but not to be confused with our east coast, Washington, D.C., and I'm on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, which means I can look across to Canada from our home. So that gives you sort of a sense of where I am.
GW: So the top left corner of the United States without getting to Alaska.
KB: Yeah, “top upper left” is sort of a meme that people wear on their giant baseball caps, which appear in this area.
GW: Yeah, I go to Washington, in normal years I go two or three times a year at a club because I have a club that I teach at regularly in Seattle. So I'm tolerably familiar with the state, but I guess many of the listeners may not be so. And you're out in the country?
KB: Yes, I live in a forest. I mean, I live right on the edge of National Forest. And in the Olympics, as you know, there's a million acres of national forest here. So that's why I have to drive into town to do this, because I have no cell reception or Wi-Fi where I live. Imagine that.
GW: It sounds extremely restful.
KB: It's very quiet. And I didn't realise it until I come into town and in town. I'm going to use the word “town” loosely because it's even a pretty small town, but it feels pretty loud, just relatively speaking.
GW: Yeah, I used to live in Finland and there was a fantasy author who used to write these books about people who go into the forest to have these sort of freaky adventures. And I will figure out who that was and stick a mention in the show notes. I'm blanking on the name, but at a convention in Finland, he expressed surprise the Finns would like his books so much because he's writing these books about people go into the forest to have adventures. And as he put it, the Finns come out the forest to buy milk.
KB: Exactly. All of the specialness is sort of lost, but yeah. Finland's a great place.
GW: Have you been?
KB: I have not been, but I follow very much the way their country preserves things like wild food knowledge and how they position their elders within their government. And then I had a nephew who lived there for quite a while. And so I would like to go someday and spend some time there.
GW: Yeah, I think you would like it because when I was living there and we have kids, when the kids were six or seven, they were walking to school by themselves and they would come out of school and then they would just kind of go play in the forest on the rocks or whatever with their friends outside and then just come in when they were hungry, which is something you just don't see much in Europe or America these days.
KB: No, but I feel like they've made a conscious effort to preserve it. They, as a culture, find it valuable, more than perhaps different cultures have found progressing away from some of their traditions to be more valuable. And so the diligence with which they work to preserve it, I think is very interesting. And a case study for maybe some other cultures who would like to preserve aspects that really there's not a ton of people saying we wish those weren't didn't exist anymore, but rather we just moved away and in hindsight going, oh, I didn't know that had to be preserved. I thought it was sort of evergreen, if you will. I thought I thought it would persist forever.
GW: Yeah, they chopped down enough trees and eventually, the forest is gone.
GW: OK, now in the historical martial arts community, I'm something of a mechanics specialist, like how do you frame a blow in such a way that it causes minimum resistance in the body and the forces that are generated and the forces that come back from the opponent are rooted safely into the ground. So you don't get joint injuries and things like that. But I'm a martial artist. I'm not a trained biomechanist. So what actually is a biomechanist?
KB: Oh, well, a biomechanist is someone who is schooled in, I think ultimately “bio”, biological systems and “mechanics”, which would be all the forces that are in place, Newtonian mechanics most of the time. And so it's just pressure and friction and force pounds and you're considering those things. And I think it'll probably come up in our conversation later as biomechanics thinks about form. Definitely. I think the thing the thing that you're speaking of is a form and that's considered kinematics. So that means what's the geometry of the shape of your body that optimises leverage? You're thinking of those things like this would optimise your position if you go too far to reach too far beyond here and you're too far forward, if your front leg or back leg is no longer grounded and you're much more prone to tipping forward. And then there is another element of biomechanics, which is kinetics, which is the things that are not as easy to see. So it's easy to see body position. It's not as easy to see forces. You can definitely calculate forces, but you can hold your arm out and have it be a particular form. And I can take another person or I can take the same person holding their arm out in the same way, but using different muscles to do so. So while they have technically the same form, if you look at them kinematically, kinetically they're different and then different things would arise in those situations. So that's what a biomechanist is looking at, really, how mechanics affect living systems. And it doesn't have to go for just humans, I mean, biomechanists can look at trees, they can look at ecologies, they can look at a particular sport. There's lots of sport biomechanists who look to optimise the form of a sport. And then there's biomechanists who look at maybe on a more micro level cells and tissues, and how does that form relate to what the cells and tissues of the body are doing? So I study human biomechanics for the most part. But really, if you study biomechanics, you just understand the mechanics and you can apply it to any system. You can study whales if you want to. How do they leap out of the water?
GW: That would be a cool thing to know.
KB: There are people who get to work on that problem.
GW: Wow. So what drew you into that? What's your real area of interest?
KB: I think disease. That's the loosest category. I sort of fell into it because I was a maths student at first and then a physics student at university. But I was also coming out of being a very sedentary person. So I was not a mover as a younger person. I mean, beyond the fact that children, I think, tend to be more movers than adults. But I was a very studious bookworm kid, and so I started moving in my 20s. 18, 19, 20, I became into an emerging mover, sort of like someone might have done at three. I started doing it 18 or 19. And so I found a small programme at our university in biomechanics, which took my background in maths and physics, which I liked, but which was frankly boring. I mean, it wasn't engaged in the world. It was like a lot of pen and paper and thinking of problems. But there was not any sort of application to those problems. And then I was an emerging mover. And so I was like, oh, I like that I can take this field that I'm good at, really seeing form, measuring forces just by eye, with applying all of that ability to see on some body that was moving. And so that's how I came into the field was because of this small two…. I mean, I still remember finding it in the library. It was two lines long saying this is a degree programme that you can do. And so I immediately transferred and then just became interested over time. And first exercisers, because usually you're working with either athletes, dancers, or physical therapy. Dancers and athletes, physical therapy, tend to be where you will find biomechanists employed the most. And so for my undergraduate I just worked in kinesiology. How do you help people train better with exercise? How do you help athletes rehab? And I did that for a while. But then after I graduated, before I went to graduate school, I just really saw that there were these predictable positions or postures or ways that people would move and you could start to see, like, wow, everyone who has lumbar fusion tends to have these certain mechanics in common. And everyone who has a rotator cuff surgery tends to have these certain mechanics in common and people with low bone density in certain places, and I was like, oh, of course, right, these are the predictable outcomes you would have, if this person was a bridge an engineer would say it's going to fail here and here. And so I just had an eye for it. So it went back to graduate school to study that; what are the movements that are associated with certain expression of disease? But then I also was really specialised in culture because we think of ourselves as the humans. But really we are just a group of humans and cross culturally there were different things that would arise in different populations because of our culture is really a large dictator of how we move as a large group of people. I would say it's where I am now twenty five years later, which is looking at what are the habits that large groups of people share when it comes to movement. You can think about form on a sport, but you could also call it the sport of life and say, well, I know that probably everyone listening sits six to eight hours a day and I know how they sit and the position that they sit in. So biomechanists can sort those things sort of into patterns. And then it's like, OK, well, then I would assume that this group, knowing that what I know about the biology and the loads of different tissues that hips and knees and shoulders are going to be the places where you have greater experience of ailments, and I know that bone density is going to be lower at these particular sites because of how they're loading as the sport of being in this particular group. We are amazing sitting athletes for sure.
GW: Although you are at a standing desk right now, and so am I. I have this electric desk that goes exactly how high I want and depending on what socks I'm wearing, I'll have a slightly different height to get the mechanics just right so that my wrists don't go crazy when I'm typing. Actually, a lot of my work revolves around getting people who have never moved deliberately to start moving. The sword is hugely attractive. It's like a hook that hooks people off the sofa and into doing something interesting and active. And sometimes they're coming to me in their 50s or 60s, having never moved deliberately before. And we have all of this work to do, just basically get them moving cleanly enough that they are able to start actually properly practising the art of swordsmanship. And these historical systems that comes from lots of different historical cultures and they all have their particular ways of moving. And particularly, for example, there's a wonderful book about Tudor England called How to Be a Tudor that has a whole section on how you moved indicated your social position within a particular hierarchy in a particular room. So there's particular ways of walking that gentleman would do, but no lady would ever walk like that and no peasant would ever walk like that. And so one of the things we have to do is from the clues that we can get out of these manuscripts and other sources, we have to figure out how were they moving and therefore, what movement patterns are they bringing to their art. And therefore, if we're going to recreate this properly, how do we create the specifics of that movement? So there's a lot of work to be done.
KB: I would like that book. I find that already I'm going, did he say the name of that book because I definitely want to order myself a copy.
GW: Ruth Goodman, How to be a Tudor. Actually, I interviewed Ruth a couple of weeks ago. She'll be on this podcast soon. But yes, I can certainly send you a link, and there will be a link in the show notes for people listening. OK, so your overall focus does seem to be on health span. So generally getting people generally healthier and into a more enjoyable life because they're not restricted by pain. Is that a fair characterisation?
KB: I think it's fair. I would say, though, that health is a very nebulous concept. I would say that what I'm trying to ultimately do is help them increase their movement span versus the health span. Because I think that there are some inherent problems in the way that we have set up these terms, health and fitness and physical fitness. So because it is quite possible, and in athletes, it's quite common to be extremely healthy by the markers that we've set up for health, but not be able to move large portions of their body. And so I think that more what I'm talking about than health is I'm saying that the ability to continue to move is probably even better. We're all trying to pick our choices of how we behave and what we want to adjust that a lot of times we make choices that cut down our future movement and we don't realise that we're making them in the moment because we don't know what it's like to not move a part or even a whole person until the degeneration is at the point in which we cannot. And then we don't know how that relates to the choices before. So it's really more of that. And I think that you will have you can have that fulfilment of your life in the sense that you can choose what to do physically. Whether it's pick up children or grandchildren or have interactions with nature and others, that that is a very large predictor of fulfilment for us. There is an autonomy or freedom, if you will, that comes with that movement. And so that's the point of view that I'm trying to help people to get away from health per se.
GW: I have a long term goal for my health. My kids are 14 and 12. So this is sometime in the future. But I want to be able to play “tick tock bong” with my grandchildren. Which firstly means that my kids have to still be talking to me when they're adults. So “tick tock bong” is where you take a child upside down by the ankles and you swing them side to side. Tick tock, tick tock. Then you lift them up and go bong bong bong. And of course, screams of delight. And you don't actually smash them on the ground. But I figure if I can do that, then I probably have everything else pretty much sorted.
KB: And that is a very simple way of layering so much more than being healthy at some age. You have put social emotional relationships into it. So you're choosing how you interact with others to make them want to be around you as you're older and then also strength and these particular motions. But it's related to an experience that you would like to have. It's not related to health and fitness outcomes, which are very poorly motivating. And it's easy to not realise that you're not on track. So I encourage everyone to do the same. That's excellent.
GW: Oh, yeah, I am just not motivated to pick up a certain amount in the deadlift, I just don't care.
KB: Or do things for a certain number of minutes or at a certain number of percentages. You know, those mechanic ways of maybe how science will break things down to understand it does not ultimately go back to humanising and what humans take away from their life. And I think that's where we are right now. We've made a big misstep when it comes to physical fitness to put everything in non-humanistic terms.
GW: Right. Whereas I guess most of my listeners would be like, I want to be fit enough to keep whacking my mates on the head with a big sword.
KB: And that's great. And I think you should embroider that. That goes on a pillow, so you see it every day. And this is my health plan. And then you can break it down and then you can check every day. You can check every day. You could see I can't do that today. Then you can sort of imagine more what not being able to do it five years in the future is.
GW: Or if I do this thing now, am I more likely to be able to do this thing or less likely be able to do this thing later on? Most of the time we're dealing with gravity.
KB: Always, I guess, unless you're in water.
GW: Yeah, but even then there's gravity acting on it. But in martial arts very often, particularly in so martial arts, the forces coming at you are coming at you horizontally, which means you have to organise your skeleton differently to deal with those forces. I am sure you have thought about this sort of thing and there's many different examples of this sort of thing occurring. But do you have any thoughts on that?
KB: Oh, sure. How long is this interview? So, yes. I mean, gravity is one of those constant forces, but it's certainly not the only force that even if we're not talking about swords.
GW: Oh, we’re always talking about swords, always.
KB: Someone who's listening to this is always thinking in terms of swords. But I think of terms of transverse forces. I think that we're just used to this idea of a giant arrow pressing on our head. You know, if you lift your arm up, there’s a giant arrow pressing down on your arm. And I think that one of the reasons we don't consider any other force besides gravity is because we hardly move. That maybe, when your body is still most of the time all there is only one giant arrow pushing on your head because you're not moving your limbs. You're not doing labour anymore. So what comes to mind right away is if you are gardening and dealing with ivy or vines, the idea that you are pulling towards you many vines and clearing them out and the vine is resisting. And so now you're dealing with a non-gravitational force. There's many things that happen in that way. So I think my further thoughts on that are really what you're probably getting to experience, being a swords person, is more complex loads or forces because you're doing a more complex movement. I mean, you're simply becoming a moving person in what is now a non-moving world. And the benefits to that is you develop a greater robustness of strength. It's one thing to be able to withstand just the act of gravity when you're standing, but now, if you're leaning forward, that same gravitational force, the constant gravitational force does not imply one set of muscles to resist it. Every different position against gravity means different muscles are working. And so I guess that's the thing is gravity is not one effect in the body. Every time you move into a different position, that one force creates a different result in your body. And that's why we're set up the way we are set up, that's why we have the shape that we have, is to be able to offset gravitational loads and then carrying loads and dealing with them. I was talking earlier about that transverse plane of motion. So, if you're standing and something's pushing on you, you're having to deal with something coming at you in the transverse plane. But we would learn how to stabilise our body in the transverse plane to a much greater effect if everything in our life wasn't covered with cement and we weren't always wearing rubber shoes. So I'm in my studio right now. You can maybe hear the echo of it. I have behind me, which you probably can't see, and I know everyone listening can't see for sure, floating stairs. So they are stairs where the step surfaces are connected by chain. So when you step on it and this is important, it moves. So it's why you would probably instruct someone to have a really stable plant of their foot. It's why you don't want your knees hanging out to the right or to the left, because if you were on something fixed, it might not be a liability. But if you're on something that gives like slate or moss or something wet that now is a liability. You can mind your form, but it's also good to practise in unstable surfaces because then you don't have to mind your form so much. The form comes second. The reason we are so caught up in form and need to instruct form is because we no longer have the environments that would have put us in those forms naturally.
GW: Right. But that's thing. The way that I teach people to get into the forms, primarily, if I'm there in person doing it and I have control over that environment, is I create an environment in which that form is the natural solution to the problem the person is experiencing, and add forces to things so that they will make the natural changes so that their particular skeleton, and every skeleton is different, will be moved into the position that they need to be in to neutralise those forces or to develop those forces so that it's not, “you should have your hip tucked like this,” or “you should have your elbow down like that.” It’s this is the whole thing and you will naturally have the hip there and the elbow there because you're responding to the forces that have been deliberately and carefully placed upon you to get that form to occur.
KB: Right. Form is the only way that the thing that you want to happen can actually happen well. That's the same thing with the floating stairs. We remove their connectedness and then all of a sudden your alignment is the only way you can get up and down the stairs. But you don't have to use your mind to figure that out, which is the difference. You can't figure it out because it's much more complicated than the small, thoughtful part of your brain could even possibly calculate so fast. But the rest of your parts deeply have that ability to do it. So it gets the thinking out of the way and lets the response be what we're going to be after anyway.
GW: Yeah. What I do to get the thinking side of the brain sorted out is once they're moving in a particular way that is desirable and it's working for them, it will have a particular feeling. So I get the student to name that feeling in whatever language they want to name it in with whatever label they want, so that rather than trying to remember a particular way of moving, they're remembering a whole body feeling, which then we can apply to other things. So if, for example, they have a tendency to move in some suboptimal way, maybe dropping their back arm or whatever. To remind them of how they should be feeling, I can just say that word to them, or that phrase, and it's not a correction to the arm, it's a OK the way you are moving right now, it probably doesn't make you feel the way you want to feel. I've reminded you of the feeling and then you do the things you need to do to recreate that feeling and then they just magically start moving better.
KB: Yeah, that's brilliant.
GW: Every martial artist who has been trained in any kind of traditional martial art, has a voice of some instructor in their head saying something like bend your back leg or straighten your right arm or something like that. And that becomes a fixation. And so you might end up getting the back leg bent too much or, yes, the back leg was fine, but you haven't noticed that it's pulled everything else out of alignment because it was not quite right relative to the rest. So these really specific technical corrections, I just stopped doing that about 10 years ago. If they have a knee that tends to turn in and we need to turn it out, we find a way of making that a natural thing to do and then name the feeling. And then when the knee starts to come in again, I just remind them of the feeling and they do all the other corrections they need to do to get the knee going in the right place. It is like your chain stairs. You know what you need to do to get up the stairs, but you can't possibly name and label every single adjustment your body has to make to make that happen.
KB: Yeah, and I think the purpose of the stairs is really to your point before where part of the assessment of how well you do, which includes do you have to grab the bar? Can you only take one step? Can you only lead right and then left and then right? Are you creeping up the stairs with one dominant leg? It is not to really measure those as much as how nervous or stable do you feel? And people will say, I'm so afraid. And that's like, OK, well, we don't want to tether really going up and down the stairs with fear. Well, what would it take to be more confident, maybe practise, and as they do become more confident, then sometimes I wonder if the feeling can actually lead the mechanics not even have to be associated with it in real time. But to say what would it take for you to feel good on the stairs and then maybe they can actually sort out, well, if I relax my shoulders a little bit, I'll feel better. So the feeling might even be associated with a particular form before the form has happened.
GW: Sometimes getting them to wear different clothes because I had this experience where I had one student who was quite clumsy in class, just generally fairly clumsy. And I bumped into him at a roleplaying event and he was wearing some kind of gown thing, like a dress. And I didn't recognise him because how people move is a large part of how I identify particularly my students, because I spend all my time looking at how they move. And he came up to me and said, “Hi, Guy.” I was like, oh my God, you move so differently. And he wasn't even aware of it. In class I asked him what he'd been wearing and I said, OK, now just imagine you're wearing that instead of your training clothes. And boom! Suddenly started moving better. Because those clothes to him were associated with a certain kind of graceful movement and just putting him in that headspace gave him access to that movement.
KB: Well, that's so funny, because when you're being interviewed, you have questions that are said to you, but I had some questions for you. One of them was really do you find that if you are attracted to the sport of swordsmanship, does that usually mean that you're also attracted to the elements that would have gone with swordsmanship, with clothing being my first idea of going, I wonder if you would really be attracted like that? You would have to wrap your body in it all the time because that itself would be a sort of training all the time when you were not actually holding a sword in your hand.
GW: A lot of people I know in the sword world are very, very much interested in the clothes, particularly the historical clothes, and they do certainly affect your movement. And I test my interpretations in period clothing to make sure that I'm not learning to move in a way that they couldn't move because the clothing wouldn't allow it. But I'm an absolute pain buying trousers. If I go to a shop to buy trousers, I will not wear a pair of trousers I cannot lunge in and kick in. I just won't, because why would I tie my legs together like that? But you have a lot of people are drawn to the sort of the knightly culture of it all, the more kind of Three Musketeers, the swashbuckling culture of it. I think it tends to go by periods. And people who have an interest in 14th century knightly combat are going to tend to be drawn to things like riding and armour and oh God, if all of my students would just learn to ride before they came to me, I would have half as much work to do.
KB: Well, and that to me are sort of my other thoughts, thinking of the culture in the movement, what were the movements that someone doing this would also be doing and that they would have been bringing to the sport? They would be so much more conditioned by what you do when you're not doing your sport. And I think that's a poorly appreciated part of athleticism.
GW: Yeah, absolutely. Now, I first came across about six, seven years ago when Jessica Finley, who has the distinction of being not only a legend in our community, but also the first person I interviewed for the podcast, we're old friends. She introduced me to your work. And of course, so I told her that you're coming on the show. She got very excited. And she has a question. You can’t examine her. You're not a doctor. Let's take all that as read. And she says she's currently dealing with a shredded supraspinatus tendon and she knows two tennis elbow sufferers. She would like to ask you about how the stresses of a sword blow transfer to our tendons. And she wonders about the difference between fast cuts through space, or cuts through space where we stop in an extended position or cuts that impact a sword or a person or a heavy bag. So what can you surmise about the loads and stresses, not knowing our art or the individual at all? Now we have the video that people can’t see, so if you want me to show you anything, I'll take a sword off the rack and show it to you. But what are your early thoughts?
KB: What are my thoughts? I got this question yesterday and I was thinking about it. So I had to look up some things like, for example, the weight of a longsword, which I assume is what she's using.
GW: Yeah, it's about three pounds.
KB: About one and a half kilograms. Thank you for putting it into the context I can understand. But yeah, I mean, I was like, OK, I think it's going to be like between one and two kilos. So it's not tremendously heavy, but it is long and its length is more important than its weight in this case. And I think it's not super clear without knowing all the motions pretty well, but I think I have a handle on it. And, so the supraspinatus, it's one of the rotator cuff muscles, so it's deep inside the shoulder. This is just for everyone listening to their understanding. So the tendon itself, just so Jessica or anyone else knows, that you're not going to load the tendon without loading the muscle. The way it goes, muscle to tendon to bone. So when tendons are loaded, it's because of what the muscles they are attached to are or are not doing. So what the supraspinatus does, where it is emitting its greatest amount of tension, is when your arm is reaching straight out to the side and the supraspinatus is resisting the gravitational push to push it down to your side. So your arm is long. So when you reach it far away, it's more than the weight of your arm. There's a little bit of torque to calculate, but if you've ever put anything in your hand, you know that the further you move something away from your body, the more work you have to do. So now you're adding an extra bit of weight that that goes pretty far away. You're creating a pretty long lever. But the supraspinatus and its tendon stops working as much as you bring that arm out in front of you, meaning the place where it's going to be at its greatest load is when it's straight out to the side, when it's abducted. Now, if you get your arm in front of you, not by bringing your arm towards a still chest, but by turning the entire chest, then it's still straight out to the side. So it's just a set up, sort of the end points of when is the supraspinatus loaded the most? It's when your arm is directly off to the side of your body.
GW: When striking with the longsword, it is normally fairly out to the side. We turn towards the person generally. So we're not square on with our hands together like this. We are sideways on with the hands like this.
KB: I hate to Americanise this at all, but where the greatest amount of research is on what the shoulder is doing in movements like this is in American baseball, meaning we can have this conversation because of the millions of dollars that have gone into batter and pitcher arms. So if you're turning it, you're keeping the supraspinatus under quite a bit of load throughout that motion. I assume, though, at some point the sword is crossing away from being straight out to the side and coming into line with you.
GW: And generally speaking, it will be coming from the right side to the left, but not terribly far away from the body sideways.
KB: What about a cross? What about a cross this way?
GW: I think the blow that she was doing is actually going from one side to the other like this. She shredded it doing what's called a Zwerchhau, which is a kind of horizontal cut above the head.
KB: OK, so the other thing to know about the supraspinatus tendon, though, is that's a very common injury. The number of surgeries. There's a half million surgeries done on it. And the mechanism of supraspinatus tearing and fraying is very rarely in a move like this. What usually causes it is the fact that it's going through, if you look up in an anatomy book, the muscle and the tendon is passing very near by this hook on the bone called your acromion process. You know it?
GW: Jess mentioned when we were discussing it that she's got an especially hooky one or something.
KB: Right. So what happens is it's really the acromion process. It's the attendant passing back and forth. And so it's the interaction between the two. But where you get the greatest amount is just throughout the day using your arms. It's because I would imagine that it has, of course it's going to be related to what you do under high loads, but it's really under what you do with the greatest volume. And so what I imagine is there's people who have an acromion process that is extra hooky, if we're going to stick to the technical term. And what it does is if you also have a lot of muscle mass in a way where your body sort of builds more on the front because of things you're doing are in front of you, perhaps more than the rear, you reduce that space. And so even being on the computer is fray time. Reaching out and making tea is fray time and so on. And so it's really to understand and that's my big point with my work about mechanics is, it's likely what you do all of the time, not only when you're in your conscious movement time that's contributing to the outcome of things. And so for athletes, when working with athletes who have a particular injury, it's like, yes, of course, I assume that her form at this level is spot on.
GW: She will be pretty good.
KB: The form in the sport is maximised, but maybe it's the form when you're not in the sport that is your greatest space for a more robust recovery and a longer duration of sport. And so that's what I do, is like let me show you how you are holding your supraspinatus and your infraspinatus and all of your rotator cuffs when you're not practising your sport so that your body is more robust so that when you do it, you can do it better and longer.
GW: OK, so how would you prevent fraying?
KB: Well, to prevent fraying, you have to get the tendon off of the acromion process. I don't know if her physician or her orthopaedics.
GW: She has had surgery for it.
KB: mean, posture is one of those known elements, like all the time positioning. So I'm sure she'll have some physiotherapy that will talk about it. But it's just with athletes, it's like, when am I going to get back to my sport? How do I do this? And it's like I think that if we could recognise that we're trying to train your sport all the time through that better positioning rather than rehab to get back to the sport, your body will be much happier doing the sport. Yeah, giving space, giving joint space through all day positioning when you're not doing the sport is how you would move the tendon away from it. You have to create more space for that tendon to move. And it's a very common…. like where you move from one thing to another, there's a better word for it. But I have young children so I don't remember what it is anymore. The progression is usually a shoulder bursitis, a small amount of pain. And then it goes to usually a supraspinatus tendon thing and then it can go to a bicep tendon thing. So it moves down to the elbow and it can become frozen shoulder. And it's only just to say that if we always think about the thing we have is coming from what we do the least amount of time, we miss the biological fact that your body, the tissues are adapting to what you do one hundred percent of the time. So that form that you so painstakingly think about when you're doing the thing that you love, that there's a form for standing and walking and moving through daily life too. And that's equally important, if not more so, because it becomes the platform that holds up the thing that you do with the greatest flow. So that's the baseline that we're after.
GW: Thank you for saying that, because I don't actually train nearly as much as most people think I do in terms of specific blocked out time in which I'm practising swordsmanship specifically. But when I'm cooking dinner or emptying the dishwasher or going for a walk or getting into the car, it's all practise all the time. Maybe if I'm completely focussed on writing a book or watching a movie or something, then I'm maybe not thinking about it. But it's all the time and I had this, I'm going to call him a self-defence expert, but that's not a fair description of what Rory Miller actually does. And we were kind of geeking out over the continual training thing where he's basically just practising this kind of strike where, if you know what you're doing, you can really hurt people with. But he's just he's going along doing ordinary things. He's practising the strike maybe four or five thousand times a day. He's very, very, very, very, very good at that strike because he's gotten ridiculous numbers of reps in. And it’s getting students to realise that you don't train in the training hall, you train to get ready to get to the training hall, and then when you're there, you're practising all the other cool stuff. But it's based on this pyramid of other practises that mean that when you get into the training hall, all that stuff is taken care of and you can focus on applying it to specific sword styles.
KB: I agree. I just wanted to add one more piece to Jessica's question for anyone else who talks about general shoulder loads and what I was going to say about baseball is there's a quite common pattern of injury. I was going to say the other thing that the supraspinatus does besides hold the arm up. And I think this is relevant for everyone who has shoulder issues, no matter what they are specifically, because of the way that the tendon attaches. It's also sort of nestling the shoulder, the head of the humerus, the upper arm, the top of the upper arm bone against the glenoid fossa, which is the other articulating part of the shoulder, what the head of the humerus is sliding against. It's pulling it, always holding that in. So a very common baseball injury to the shoulder, because there's quite a tremendous amount of force that goes into a swing. When they don't hit something, it's much more damaging for the shoulder than when they do. So when you hit something, what happens is you know you're going to hit it. It's a controlled motion. It's not like dropping a heavy arm and it's swinging, or at least it shouldn't be. You actually put on the brakes. So I think it's very similar to a martial art where you don't just send if you're going to break something with your hand, you're not necessarily throwing your hand down through something, you're hitting it hard and stopping it at the point to apply a particular force.
GW: It's a little different with swords, but the principle can apply.
KB: Yeah, the idea that you are holding your shoulder stable, more stable when you hit something, than when you are swinging through really hard, because I feel like that was maybe the question, like if I'm hitting a bag is that more or less? And I think that it would often be less damaging to the shoulder when you're hitting something than when you're not. Now, if you're changing directions quickly, I think the phenomenon of the fact that you're putting on your own brakes and keeping your shoulder stable applies because you're not necessarily making contact, but you're mindfully engaging to steer away. Just to finish that question and then to your point earlier, I think that when people are drawn to a sport, the idea is, if you're doing it at this high level, then you must be doing it at this high level all the time. And we're seeing that at youth sports. Everyone wants to specialise, their children. Oh, you like basketball, play basketball all the time. But really high level athletes, they do really better by not specialising and developing a wide breadth of capable movements for which actually elevate their preferred sport, or the sport that they're better at. So just think about that for yourself. I'm going to be practising elements of what I do all the time in everyday life. And then I have a very wide base to be successful upon.
GW: Excellent. OK, now. We have to talk about feet, because I've read your stuff about high heels and what have you. When Jess came to visit me in Finland that's where she told me about your stuff. We were in February. It was snow and ice on the ground because it's Finland and we were both wearing medieval style shoes with flat leather soles. And warm socks inside them because it was cold, but no big, chunky, solid sole, and we were strolling around on the ice and the snow no problem at all. And I got into the barefoot shoe thing through medieval shoes. And I was in Verona attending this medieval event. And I thought, I better just check that my shoes are working properly for me. And so the night before, I was just wandering around the streets of Verona with my wife. Very romantic. Very lovely. I had these medieval shoes on and oh, my God, you could just feel everything. These beautiful warm stones. And you could feel the heart of the city beating. Oh, God, it was gorgeous. Anyway, so to me at least, you're preaching to the converted. But I do know that there's an awful lot of people who like swords who also like fancy shoes. I am one of them. I own more shoes than my wife does. And it really kills me that I can't justify the heel on my fancy brogues anymore. So I have these beautiful shoes I almost never wear them. Weddings and funerals and that's it. So tell us about your feet and shoes and how they affect movement and that sort of thing.
KB: Oh, well, the feet for human beings, I always think of the feet as the ears or the eyes to the ground, they have this sensory equipment that is informing the rest of your neurological system how to adjust positioning naturally. So if we were to talk about creating an environment to which you were adjusting your body parts optimally, having big shoes upon your feet is a main disruptor for that natural organisation that you would have because we're really adjusting ourselves to the shoes. The shoes is the new environment underfoot. If you imagine just a heel and a heel on a trainer is a heel, I'm not talking about the high heeled shoe. I'm talking about a what's called a positive heel geometrically, anything.
GW: Any elevation under the heel.
KB: Any elevation under the heel that's not under the toe puts your feet pointing down a small slope. So you make these whole body adjustments to your knees and your hips and your spine. You're shifting your centre of mass to adjust. And there's nothing wrong with the slope. It's just that it wouldn't be normal to walk on a slope or down a slope for endless miles for years of your life and never walk uphill. So it's just that. If you had this concept of right, I want to adapt to my environment so that my parts can orient my structure for the optimal centre of gravity that it takes just to walk around. This is, again, the benefit of why it's not only optimal to get not knocked over when someone’s shoving you. I mean, that's important in your sport. Our bodies are slowly adapting to this position that makes just walking easy to knock us over. We become less stable as we get older. But we just have this longer term adaptation to not moving or moving in these really unnatural not moving very much environments. And when we do, it's in these really unnatural environments that don't necessarily promote natural mechanics that move well. And you have a lot of joints in the feet. If you look at your hands. I know it seems weird to say it because we're such a hand dominant culture that has covered our feet from infancy, but your feet and your hands are very similar in dexterity, in manipulation and sensory, they do different things, but they curl and they grasp and they feel and they spread out and they wrap pinkies around different things.
GW: I actually use one of your foot spreading exercises. I run these regular three times a week conditioning classes, mostly so I don't get too fat in lockdown. But I use some of your foot spreading exercises that I got from one of your books, literally it's three times a week. Just to get people moving their feet. And for most people coming, it's the first time they've deliberately spread their toes since, well, maybe when they did when they were a kid.
KB: Yeah. And I think for any for any athlete or anyone trying to get better at something, you're pulling from as many resources as you can. You're like, I'll take all the books, I'll take all the classes, I'll do the prescribed exercises, I'll do the prescribed flows or processes. But a lot of times we haven't even pulled from using all of our body. There’s 40 percent of your body isn't even online right now. So when you're doing these big exercises. Your feet have a lot of joints, thirty three joints in each foot. Twenty five percent of the number of bones and muscles in your body reside from the ankle down. So imagine not bringing in. It's obviously not in terms of mass, but it's in terms of precision. So if you have all these parts that could be affecting where you're loading and how and you haven't even started training with them, those feet of yours, even though you've been training for years, imagine the progress you could make without even adding anything new except inviting your feet to play. So it's really just those ideas of, your toes move individually, your feet. And it'd be interesting, do you do a lot of outdoor training? Where the surface underneath? You know, you talk about you go out and you feel but they've done these experiments where they've put textured mats inside of people's shoes and every single different texture that they pick and the textures are fine, like small bumps or tiny lines, every texture moves your calf muscles differently. Imagine reading Braille. Our fingers are so sensitive that we can read Braille. If anyone does body work, they can feel when a thread of a muscle is over tense. We are amazing, beautiful sensory creatures. And so when you put these textured mats in you’re moving different calf fibres and the idea that if we trained in not always flat and level and indoor rubber, what would it be like to do a session where your feet were your feet, bare feet on the earth? I would be really interested to see what that would be like for those of you who've done it regularly in other environments.
GW: Well, I could tell you what happens to me. Twice in the last two years, I've gotten stung by a wasp.
KB: Oh, there you go. See, you become stronger.
GW: No, really not. It was horrible! But yes there is a lot of value to be had if you have training outside anyway, but also training outside barefoot. And the thing is for a lot of the later period swordsmanship styles that we practise, anything before shall we say 1500, we are wearing many of those shoes which are totally barefoot friendly. And they should have a very thin, flexible leather sole and they're basically like a leather sock that protects you from cuts and bruises, but they have no structure at all. And of course, a lot of the modern ones, the modern reproductions, are actually built with a thick, stiff leather sole, which is no use at all. Just because that's what people expect from a shoe.
KB: Right. And also because probably on medieval shoes we're going to be mostly on dirt and probably wear down much differently. And people are like, I paid the money for that and I need my shoe to not wear out for this many years. And so they are beefing up the materials.
GW: Yeah. But then in the 16th century, people started putting heels on their shoes for fashion reasons more than anything else. And so by the 17th century, people are often actually fighting duels wearing two and a half inch, three inch heels because men with high heels, because one had to show off a fancy calf and all that sort of stuff. So stockings and high heels is male fashion people.
KB: It very much is.
GW: Obviously, one of the things we need to do is historical martial artists is recreate that. And I absolutely just won't, because I respect my knees and I want them to last forever, but I have many friends who are, shall we say, braver than me and more historically minded. So can you suggest how they can go about that without destroying their legs and backs?
KB: Certainly I think that, I imagine that the total amount of time that you would have to be in a duelling outfit, you know, you're still celebrating that it's going to be very small compared to what you're wearing the rest of the time. So, you know, those periods are small and those periods aren't necessarily destructive. It's when, again, your baseline of behaviour, well, those trainers look suspiciously similar in height to the heel, that you acknowledge so if you could go to minimal the rest of the time, it's fine. It's very similar to eating. You are going to throw out a creme brulée or a big piece of birthday cake or have a party or a festive season or lock down where your eating is going to be different then than what you normally do around it. And so it's just ceremonially and even if it's on the regular, if you just are being really objective about time, I wear shoes this many hours a week and it's this many hours a week, I'm in these, but the rest of the time in these, I think that's totally fine. And you will not find it to be destructive to your body parts in that way. It would be really interesting to know, because I know a lot of in a lot of different activities, part of that activity, maybe after a battle would be some sort of care, you know, if you were being massaged.
GW: Warm down or decompression?
KB: Exactly. But maybe even more like massage to a body part or if there was a certain restorative protocol. So creating some sort of restorative protocol after the period of time when you wear your shoes, which is, OK, I'm going to stretch these things out, and I think that's fine.
GW: OK, well, in which case, I'm going to plug I have these free courses call Human Maintenance. That includes how to massage your knees, calves, ankles and feet. So, yes, go ahead add that on. Yes. Katy says it's OK to use your high heels when you must.
KB: As long as you get this course.
GW: As long as you get Guy’s knee massage afterwards. Talk about putting words in your mouth. All right. OK, so now your latest book, which I have read an advanced copy of, it's a manifesto about getting kids to move more and you organise it by environment, culture, clothing, home and so on. So the way I see it, your approach is to create environments which moving is natural. So the thoughtless response to the environment you're in is to move more. So that's also how we create safe training for us, because we have a very dangerous activity and so we create an environment in which safe behaviour is considered normal and anything unsafe is perceived as weird and unnatural. So people naturally behave safely. So how do you create environments where people will get a better range of movement styles and more movement span?
KB: Well, I think my general approach is to first recognise and acknowledge how you're moving and specifically not only how many minutes. I think that we have been trained to really consider exercise is what movement is. And that was the big point of Move Your DNA is we are so biased to only seeing exercise as movement or training periods, that we do not recognise that we are moving one hundred percent of the time, by definition, on a cellular level. And it's just that our exercise programme, if you will, looks like eight to 10 hours of sitting in a chair a day, those are the muscles that we're exercising on the regular. That's the strength that our body is suited for. Our body is changing to make sitting easier and easier on us. It's like, oh, I don't want you to have to lengthen the back of your hip muscles. So every time you sit down, I'm going to set them to this extra long length and set these to these extra short lengths. And because we do it so frequently, when we get up it doesn't really change anymore. It's more adaptive in this way, longer term. So once you acknowledge that you're moving all the time and there's even a whole section on clothes, you know, like what you put on your body is restrictive. You're thinking about trousers because you're like, I'm going to lunge and bend over, but we put our kids in things that don't let their ankles move. Their legs are bound together, their arms don't rise over their shoulders. These are normal clothes. And we have play clothes. But no one ever calls the rest of their clothes their sedentary clothes. So it's this idea of just recognising what movement is and then recognising how you move and how you don't. And then doing things like reducing the amount of furniture in your house or changing it so that it's different shapes.
KB: It's this idea that, you know, if you look around your house, there is no space for me to get on the floor and stretch out. I couldn't even do a practise move while I'm watching TV. I couldn't even just imagine going through a few things because there's a coffee table right there against my knee. It's like, why? Why is it there? Can you make space in your home for movement? And then if you have children, it's especially important that your home has a culture that makes movement for permissive. So you have created a studio where to be unsafe is sort of the outlying behaviour. Well, all of our spaces right now have made movement the outlying behaviour. It's just that. And so we need to be really mindful about what movement permissive rules look like, communications look like, and then literally the spaces that make it safe for people, what the infrastructure might be. And they're not expensive. They're not complicated. It's just like you've shown it's moving things out of the way. Maybe you don't need 30 seats in a home when there's only four bottoms that live there, like looking at your chair to butt ratio of your house and making adjustments like that to set to set kids up for more movement.
GW: Yeah, my wife and I watch TV in the evening before going to bed. I have an exercise mat on the floor and I'm usually on the floor doing stretches and whatever and moving around. Then I go on the sofa for a bit and I get back on the floor and on the sofa, back on the floor, just because I am blessed with a dodgy spine, which means if I don't do my regular stretching, I seize up quite quickly, which means I can't spend days and days on the sofa because I would just be in agony and unable to move. So it sounds like a bad thing, but it actually means that we've basically had to provide these sorts of spaces in the house because I literally can't survive without them.
KB: And I think one other thing, just to circle back to what you said, it seems like you've identified agony as the feeling that you don't like when you have. And so you move naturally when you don't want the feeling of agony, sort of like in the training. And I think that what because we don't recognise our own sedentarism, many of us have feelings. So this would be like taking the analogy of saying when you're in a position and you're dropping your arm or whatever that you've associated a feeling with when the position is working and when it's not working, you've given them two different languages. Because we don't recognise our own state of constant sedentariness, if that’s a word, we probably have a feeling that we already associate with our whole person being under moved. For you it seems like agony of the back, you know, that maybe that's the part where it arises. For me, it's like a sluggish brain fog. I just feel terrible when I don't move a lot. And I think that many of us have that we just might not associate it with the fact that we're not moving on the regular because we haven't really learnt to correct it by moving on the regular or experienced what moving on the regular feels like enough to know. I feel joyful and clear-headed when I move a lot. And so when I feel sluggish and foggy headed, I know that movement is what I go to adjust the feeling or if I adjust my feeling first and then I start moving, I'm not sure which one is actually happening, but I think we can take some of the training things that you said to help the person listening apply this to more than just the form of the thing that they love.
GW: You mention having a permissive attitude to movement. I imagine people working in offices, not so much during the pandemic, but you're not supposed to get up and wander around or get up and do push ups or there's a sort of expectation that you'll be wearing these clothes that you can't move in and sat at the desk or even these days, maybe even stood at a desk. Even standing all day isn't great.
KB: Yeah, and I think that that's why we need that more robust understanding of movement at every change in position as a different movement. I wrote a whole book on what you do in an office, and I'm expanding it. So it'll be coming up. The next one will be Movement Works because for many people, the hindrance to movement like children, the hindrance to movement is often their work, which is the educational setting, which is fairly sedentary. It's just the same version of many people going to work and where the expectation is your professional clothing is sedentary, that your work atmosphere is everyone just sitting. It's just sedentary, sedentary, sedentary. So it does take a cultural shift.
GW: And you sit on the way to work.
KB: Oh, yeah. I mean, the transport, there's no active there's no active transportation. I mean, we're really just moving in small bits in between long bouts of sitting. We've sort of associated TV time with the sitting and everything else is just a necessity. So even learning how to sit differently. Like, if you're going to sit, maybe you can opt for a different form, I think that's where ergonomics comes in. It’s this idea like, oh, I've been sitting and these are the pains and this is the feeling that I have. It's like, well, we're going to adjust your position while you're sitting. We're going to adjust sort of the furniture around you for maybe a more vital positioning. And then now there's the OK, well, we you do need to be up every 30 minutes to move around. So what are the things that we have that we have accepted that it would be better to just email someone around the office instead of just getting up and walking when you needed the walking break anyway. Three emails to do something that a one minute conversation could have done more seamlessly with human cues of, oh, I see you accept that or you don't accept that or I just thought that. I mean, everything is just gone to tiny finger pecks, and eyes looking at something 20 inches from our face and we've just sort of all moved down into this is the acceptable culture. But I don't think it is. I don't think Finland would say that it is. I think that there are many cultures that haven't done this. We're just one that's doing it. And I'm just trying to stand up at this point in saying I think we might need to do something different because we've had the billions of dollars of research to say it. We know it now. It just seems to be what do we do about none of our spaces are set up for it. That seems to be the stuff that we're on now.
GW: Yeah, and it's funny, in certain parts of the world, like Asia, for instance, it's perfectly normal to see people instead of sitting they’re squatting. If I’m in a bookshop and I need to get down to the bottom shelf and I want to have a look at the book, I just squat down and I look at the book and these people kind of look at me side eyed, like who’s that weirdo. One of the great things about being a professional swordsmanship instructor in the twenty first century is you can just say, well, yes, I'm a weirdo so I can do these crazy things. No one expects me to be normal. Which is great. But for most people, they don't have that sort of licence to be weird.
KB: Their freak flag.
GW: Right. I found for a while that I kind of, it wasn't a rule, just the habit of whenever I looked at my phone for any reason, I squat down. So the position in which I would fiddle about on my phone would be in the squat. Rather than sitting in a chair or standing up or whatever else. And it just kind of added a bit more squatting to my day. I think I move fairly much anyway, so I don't think it necessarily made that much difference. But I have a lot of students who can't comfortably squat.
KB: Yeah, that's a big portion of my work is to help people do that because once you've lost it, it takes a regimented plan to get it back. Squats being lost and knee and hip problems that result from that, I mean the therapy that you're going to get for knee and hip problems from a physiotherapist are just elements of squatting and sitting. Done raised up at first. I think that we will see movement permeate because it's so clear why we can't move right now as a massive group of people. And the solution I mean, I wrote this book for kids because I've been writing them for adults and they're like, I wish that someone had just set me up on better legs, if you will. I wish that someone knew this. And I was like, OK, well, then now we will speak to the parents and alloparents and therapists and educators to say you are creating this environment. So what changes can we set the next generation? Because we know that what we did for this last one isn't working for us as adults. A lot of the ailments we have as adults are really paediatric issues manifesting in later adulthood. And that's essentially all I do at this point.
GW: My kids are 14 and 12 and they are, I guess, reasonably active. One thing I've noticed with my youngest, during lockdown and stuff we've not been bugging them to do anything. We can't really take them places. It's been quite difficult to make their experience of being locked away from their friends actually bearable. But my youngest, she will spend literally all day lying on the sofa watching Vampire Diaries kind of TV, except if you actually look at what she actually does, about every 25 minutes she gets up, she puts on a YouTube video with music and dances for two or three songs, and then she goes back to what she was doing, watching the TV.
KB: Right. She's fed her body.
GW: Yeah. No one has told her to do that. But she's naturally doing that. I don't know why. She just figured out that's what she likes to do. So that's what she does. My eldest, she is constantly wandering around the house. She'll just wander in and wander out again because and she would rather take most of her meals moving so she can get up and eat, have breakfast, wandering around the house. Anything like as a child to actually move I am not interfering with unless it's directly and immediately dangerous. Reading your book, I kind of wish I'd read the book 10 years ago because it would have helped with some things, but do you have any suggestions for people with older kids? How do you get older kids who have already bought into the let’s sit all day culture, how do you get them out of it when it's not supported the school and it's not necessarily supported in most homes?
KB: Well, I just always like to remind everyone that we, meaning I, I'm forty five. I'm not sure how old you are, but I'm an adult and I was very sedentary until my early adulthood. And it's fine, I was able to become a robust mover despite not having a ton of movement. Now, the unprecedented difference is, is the devices factor that in a completely new environment. I didn't get a computer in my home as something that I used regularly until later 20s. And I didn't have a smartphone or anything until I was 30s. So when you look at that and everyone's like your eight year old should totally have it. And I was like, remember that these things we acquired them as an adult. Sort of like when cigarettes first came out, the younger kids were smoking them too, the adults and the kids all got this new thing at once. And then you sort of started to adjust over 50 or 60 years because there was just more awareness of what was going on. So we are just not quite there yet. But I'm assuming by older kids you really mean teenagers because teenagers are…
GW: They are fun. Teenagers are fun.
KB: Exactly, exactly. They're just fun. And what I would recommend is, there is probably something that your teenagers are extremely passionate about. Everyone says video games, they love video games or whatever, but I think that if you get into a dialogue, you're going to find that usually someone, maybe it's like I really love animals or I have a kid who's very much into swordsmanship.
GW: Hooray! Send him to me!
KB: I know, he's already asked, like, when can we all go to the school for a month? I was like, yes, OK, great, we can go. And my daughter, I mean, all of us are sort of into it a wee bit. But if you can find a thing that they're passionate about, even if it seems inconvenient to you, because like maybe you'll see someone like I love horses, that's great. Well, we don't have a farm and we can't do that. So to realise that there's probably some way that you can whatever their passion is, I always ask my kids, I don't want any rules. Don't limit what I'm asking you with these questions. Just imagine I come up with it and then they do the work. I think that’s the side effect of so many devices or technologies. There's a lot of loss of creativity and having to produce without the input help, you imagine and assemble things yourself. Boredom is truly amazing for getting creative and inventing things that didn't exist before.
GW: I actively build boredom time into my schedule.
KB: You need it.
GW: If I don't have time to be bored, I'm not going to put the interesting things together.
KB: That's right. Ideas come from boredom. My daughter, who loves adorning her body, made herself a pair of high heeled shoes out of cardboard and electrical tape and papier mâché. She's clomping around. And I don't say you can't wear them, we have all minimal shoes. So she puts them on. She's clomping around. She's like, I can't, I'm falling over every time I wear these. I was like, oh, exactly. So then she went and made a pair of minimal shoes that were beautiful and wound all around her legs and had buttons. I think that humans are humans are engineers, we all are sort of like imagining Lego, except we're doing it with ideas, we're doing it with words, we're doing it with materials. But as we prebuy things to tinker with and say, here's what you can build, we're sort of blowing through our tinkering energy. Without having to come up with the things ourselves, to work with the mud, to figure out metals, that's where new things come from.
GW: But you know what it reminds me of actually, because I'm a woodworker, I used to be a cabinetmaker. And so I'm used to taking a big piece of wood and doing stuff with hand tools are making it into different shapes of little small bits of wood and then putting them together. And then you get the thing that I've imagined. So that's standard, which is worlds away from assembling things out of parts that other people have decided the shape of.
KB: That's right.
GW: But this is what programmers are like. I don't touch computers except through some fancy graphical interface where somebody else has decided these are the things that you can do. And I could put these things together in ways that work for me, and that's fine. But I have friends who are programmers who they look at that and they're just horrified, like, why would you not just build that thing entirely from scratch so that you can get it exactly the way you want it, which is just like me selecting a piece of wood and making things exactly the way I want them. The problem is, of course, that the programmer is going to be doing most of that sitting down, so we're going to have to get that same creativity and apply it to domains that movement.
KB: Yeah, and I think that also it's important to understand how culture works. It’s that when you have systems that work a particular way, like we are all sort of on computers now, then what you can expect is people who think in terms of building it exactly as you want becomes what this culture ends up creating more and more of. So you end up creating more people who flourish in that way and then systems that utilise people who flourish in that way. And then that's what eventually takes us down a particular path. Are we both squeezing balls?
GW: Yeah, I just noticed Katy was holding a kind of a squeezy ball thing. And I have one on my desk.
KB: And I've been rolling my feet for the last hour. It's like a fidgeting thing.
GW: Are you sure we're not twins?
KB: We might be. I mean, really, as we have spoken, I feel like we've met before. Everyone comes with their own strengths of the way that they would want to build in, but when we only have a small selection of toys that we buy kids and activities that are acceptable for kids, what you do is you lose the wide breadth of capitalising. It's really interesting that my son, who loves Swordsmanship, has always had a stick and these expensive routines. He would always make papier mâché helmets and things. He also woodworks, he whittles wands, swords and daggers all day long. So is it the element of wood. It is that relationship with the flow. I'm just rambling now, but I think that we need to be preserving many different outlets. Movement is a human necessity, so even though we've gotten rid of maybe the need for it in the short term, it's there in our bodies in the long term. I got to help people who worked at Google. I mean, they're making the world go around and in so many ways, as far as like programmers and making things accessible, because they're in lockdown, too. So not only are they doing that small amount of work, they're doing that small amount like tiny little movements. They're doing it in their homes, never even going to where other people are, in their big cities, oftentimes in very small apartments. And they're like, how are we going to keep these folks healthy enough too because the world is running on them tiny tapping and doing these things. If our society is going to say that these are the workers that we require to do the lifestyle, then we have to make sure that we would be OK with our children doing that job or ourselves doing that job. And that's how you that's a good way to, I think, assess the technology, like if it's a good step or not.
GW: I have several friends who write books and some of them do it while walking because they're dictating so instead of sitting at the desk all the time, that they're going on a two or three hour walk and they come back with five, ten thousand words of material, which then then they'll sit at the desk and do the editing because they need to kind of see the text. But most people would have spent four or five hours typing that stuff in, but they found a way to do it while actually moving. It’s not a stretch to think that they'll be able to do similar things like that with maybe VR headsets.
KB: Oh, yeah, I think there will be a solution. We just have to identify the problem. The problem is, this work is requiring sedentarism, so how can we produce what we need to produce in a more dynamic way? I mean, the problem is not complicated.
GW: But also when there are jobs, for example, in a very noisy environment or, well, these days, like there's a threat of foreign infection. What protective measures do you put in place so that the worker is not harmed by the job they have to do? Why aren't they doing the same thing in offices?
KB: I think because the damage takes so long to show up. I think it's very easy to say, well, yes, you're going to do this for us 10 hours a day. But you're free to do what you want the rest of the time. But the rest of the world is now responding, especially now. Now is a very heightened piece of time where almost one hundred percent of living is done online. I mean, even ordering food, even going out to eat or getting food, which used to have all the components of it. I wrote a book of essays, Movement Matters, and it was really saying we just don't see that if you push your key fob to unlock your car, what movement was that really saving us from? That was putting a key in and turning the wrist a quarter turn, did we really need to get rid of that? Was that a big inconvenience? And so you have to really start to look at them in terms of not time, but movement. So if you assess convenience not by it saves me time, but to say it saves me movement. And therefore, because it saves so much movement, it doesn't actually save time at all because I still needed that movement. And now I've lived the whole entire day without having any movement built in. And now I'm still under moved. Now I'm four hours under moved and I have more time. It doesn't save time. It doesn't save time at all.
GW: So reframe it.
KB: Yeah, convenience saves movement.
GW: And if employers had to pay for that movement time, in the same way that employers pay for various physiotherapy or whatever, if they had to pay for that movement time to make up for the sitting time, then I think employers would be pretty quick to make the job itself less sedentary.
KB: Yeah, it's almost more like carbon offsetting. Like you buy credits, OK, we owe you this many movement credits. I think because we're so economics centric as our pretty much main assessment of whether things are good or bad, we're going to have to convert everything into how much is this going to cost the nation as a whole to deal with symptoms of sedentarism. And how much sedentarism do you require or promote to get this job done? Then you get this many movement credits later on. Instead of vacation time you're getting movement credits. I'm not sure exactly how it works given we all have different movement capabilities. We're sort of a commodity where our movement is the thing that we're paying with our stillness. And, yeah, we're not recouping that. And it doesn't work like an economics because it's a physical living tissue. So you can't not move between your twenties and thirties and then make it up in your fifties, because getting to your fifties depends on you moving in your twenties and thirties. So we're not as mechanistic or as able to commoditise ourselves as maybe we think.
GW: Yes, I would agree. Now we have already gone quite a bit longer than I was expected, which is great and I have all the time in the world. So if you are happy to go on,
KB: Let's do a couple more. Maybe like 15 minutes more, if that works.
GW: OK, now this is a question I asked many of my guests. And you've done a whole load of things already, like writing books and moving out into the wilderness so you can run around in forests all day. But what is the best idea you haven't acted on yet?
KB: Retirement. Retirement isn't the right word. The best idea to me is I spend a lot of my time explaining theories and historical patterns of movement and their essentialness of preserving them. And so I would say a greater portion of my day is spent talking about the need to preserve, because I know that the preservation is going to require more than a single person. I know that there's a community that's required to save something. And so, like, let's say saving movement is the thing that I'm talking about right now, certain movement patterns. So I pay with my own experience, I'm giving up me doing the thing because I know that it will pay off if I can get collectively more people doing it and promoting it and spreading it. I would like to transition of where I can just do the thing. I would like to experience that sort of ageing out of going from a teacher in that way to being more like I'm still doing it and it's not going to be immediate but where I can do the thing more than I teach the thing. I'm looking forward to that phase, and then, of course explain to everyone how you do that.
GW: Because I did that four years ago.
KB: How is it working?
GW: Fantastic. It's really, really good. I get to do as much swords as I want, well, not in pandemic times. I can't travel as much as I'd like, but I am no longer having to show up four nights a week and weekends teaching all the time. We could talk for another hour about how you might want to go about that. So maybe we should schedule a round two. As I see it, retirement isn't stopping doing what you want to do. It is having to do the things that need to get done so that you're free to do the things that you want to do.
KB: Yeah, and I think what I mean even more by retirement is, “Eldership” isn't something that our culture does very well anymore, so I think more like what I'm interested in doing next is being an elder. I think it's farther away than maybe I'm making it seem. But this idea of occupying a role, of doing the sum total of my experience and educating more and informing more by being a person, I wrote a book called Dynamic Ageing, and I was 40 at the time, but I was able to work with four women who were all septo and octogenarians who had been training with me for 20 years. And so they were like, here's where I was when I was in my 60s, and these are the ailments that I had. And here's where I am now, where I'm in my 70s and 80s and I'm better at 70 and 80. So I let them really tell their story because it's one thing for a thirty five or a forty year old to say, this is why we're doing this thing and it works. It's different to say here are four people and they're sharing what they had and what they did and didn't need to do. I'm ready to occupy even a space of writing and informing that is more about holding that older person space who is still well and thriving and contributing, but not necessarily in the way of working, because we're sort of like you have to work to be a good pillar of society and then you die. And elders have a role and you're still productive and informing. It's just not through a commercial space so much anymore.
GW: Yeah. We don't value our children for their productivity.
KB: That's right.
GW: Basically what I did is I shifted from being a historical swordsmanship instructor to being a consulting swordsman. So I took the idea from Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Sherlock Holmes could be a consulting detective. I can be a consulting swordsman. So I'm not directly responsible for any school or club.
KB: Yeah, and that's freeing probably a little bit, too.
GW: Oh, God, such a relief. I've written more books. Produced online courses and I have a much more active mailing list I have because I'm actually interacting with the students. I have the time and the energy. I still want to interact with my students. I still want to take care of my people. But I don't want that to be a kind of formal job.
KB: I think it's also there's a very particular mind set in creating. You're creating something that didn't exist before. I mean, there was ideas and there's a practise. And then it went away for a while. And then when you're bringing something back like this. You're having to create a school, you're having to create manuals, you're having to create rules, you're having to create teaching student protocols, that is one way of informing and spreading. But that is a very fatiguing way because it's using parts of you that aren't necessarily associated to the thing that you would like to preserve. I am now ready to preserve the thing rather than building the infrastructure around preserving the thing because I'm at my capacity.
GW: Getting you on to the podcast. When I contacted your assistant, I got your fantastic, like, the best “Hell yes, I'll come on your show” I have ever had. People, Katy sent me a photograph of herself holding a sword and I thought, OK, this is going to go really well. But you’re obviously really, really busy because this was scheduled six weeks ago through your assistant, because you don't have the mental leisure to do it yourself. That doesn't strike me as healthy in the long term.
KB: No, I don't. How do I want to say it? I think that there are people suited for it and I think I am a person suited for it. There have always been leaders, you know, everyone is busy taking on certain strengths. And those strengths look different no matter what you're doing. I think I'm suited for what I'm doing. I just also because I think I monitor my health so well because I have an assistant or two or three. And I allow that work to sort of be shared because I'm very protective of my sleep and because I'm very protective of my movement and my family's time and their exposure to my work in terms of the how much work is being done. I don't want it to encroach in their experience. I know that I am very close to being done at that level of, it's not so much production. We are still productive and contributing. It's of a particular type that is very short lived. You can only do so much. And this is what I've done. And now I'm ready to shift to a different way of doing my work.
GW: OK, but seriously, I've made that shift and I have assistants who are working for me to do all sorts of things. So there's another Katie who'll be transcribing this show, who was also very excited to hear that you are coming on because she's a massive barefoot fan and she knows your work already.
KB: Oh nice! Hi, Katie.
GW: But, yeah, just getting. I describe me shifting to being a consultant chosen as retiring because it was retiring, strictly speaking.
KB: It's a word that people understand.
GW: Yeah, but it's really just a much freer mental space because you're not required for the day to day.
KB: I feel like I'm restoring more of the regular way of behaving in the world. Like I don't think it's natural to have so many letters come to me, but to me, not being able to send out as many back as we're in a relationship. You send me a letter, I send you a letter back. And I like teaching live because even if there's two hundred people there, I'll see you all. I will meet you all over the course of a weekend or a week. That's much more normal than putting out videos and books where you have one hundred thousand people who have read them and you've never met anyone. I think that that energetically is weird and I think that there's a draw in some way. And so I'm just looking to restore the humanity to what I do, meaning that from my perspective it's more humane.
GW: Yeah, absolutely. OK, that's a great answer to the question. It was not at all what I was expecting.
KB: You were saying, oh, I have another book coming out and it's on this.
GW: No, actually, when I sent these questions to your assistant, she actually replied saying she really wants to hear your answers to the last two questions. So I'll ask you.
KB: She's going to hate it.
GW: Probably. OK, somebody gives you a huge chunk of money to improve movement quality worldwide. How would you spend it?
KB: I would spend it by increasing the walking paths the world over, meaning spaces where people could actively transport in whatever way that was for them without having to worry about, and I would prefer it if it was hard packed dirt, that there would be spaces where everyone could actively transport their body even if they wanted to go back to the way we used to move. I was reading some on your website and some about some of your books and some of, you know, the history you write about and the idea of walking to or riding to where you were going to compete or move. This idea of that, it's not unreasonable to want to go walk for two hundred miles somewhere that is a perfectly reasonable and I would argue necessary thing to be able to do. I would spend it making sure that there was a way that like in the same way that we've connected the World Wide Web, it would be an actual world wide, oceans restricted, walking web. That's what I would do.
GW: OK, that's an interesting use of the money. It is tricky to get people to walk because of the time that it takes and I go for like a like a six mile walk a couple of times a week at the moment, because we live quite close to the edge of town. We go into the fields and wander around in the fields and it's lovely. But for an awful lot of people, they are in the middle of a city or whatever. And some cities are great to walk in, but oh my God, America. I've walked in in every European city I've ever been to, and I can't think of one where it was actively difficult to walk from one place to another. But a while ago, I was staying at this event in Michigan and we're staying in this hotel and I thought I'd go for a walk. There was a restaurant next to the hotel and there was another kind of restaurant shopping kind of place next to that, so maybe two hundred yards total at the end of the pavement, sidewalk ended and it was just big roads with big cars on the moving very fast. And literally you could not walk anywhere from the hotel. It was impossible to walk to it from anywhere else without climbing over fences and crossing major roads just by walking across them, which is suicidal. But I was like, how am I supposed to get anywhere? And of course, I'm supposed to have a car.
KB: You're in Michigan. You have to get a car. You are in ground zero of car land.
GW: I was only there for a weekend!
KB: We are designing really the infrastructure of a culture to require a car. But more than that, because walking movements are not possible. Active transport, meaning using your body to get from point A to point B, not possible. So that's where I’d put my money.
GW: Well, that's an excellent answer. So thank you very much indeed for joining me today, Katy, it has been a delight talking to you.
KB: Oh, I really, really enjoyed it. I said an enthusiastic yes, because I just knew it would be great.